Weekender: Fairy tales and dangling swords
1. Don't wish for a fairytale start
While romantics may hope Stoke break the deadlock to bring the FA Cup Final to life, an early Potters strike could have the opposite effect: if Pulis's men score first, it's usually game over. This season, sturdy Stoke have been the second-best Premier League team at maintaining a lead: they've gone in front 13 times, won nine of them and never lost. Meanwhile, Man City are the second-worst team in the Premier League at coming from behind Ã¢ÂÂ having gained just four points from losing positions this season.
2. Tales of two Cities usually end up blue
Saturday's FA Cup Final will be only the third to feature two teams called City Ã¢ÂÂ and on both previous occasions the Manchester blues have lifted the trophy. In 1955/56 they beat Birmingham 3-1, and in 1968/69 they battled to a 1-0 victory over Leicester. This could be a good omen for CityÃ¢ÂÂ¦ er, Manchester City, that is.
3. The FA Cup programme could be on your phone
Off to Wembley this weekend? Pick up a programme Ã¢ÂÂ not just as a memento but as an interactive peek behind the scenes and the beginning of a revolution in football programmes. Smartphone users can access a range of FATV videos via five QR codes printed in the programme. The videos will include Manchester City and Stoke City tunnel cams from the semi-finals, match highlights (from 6pm), highlights of this year's Road to Wembley and classic FA Cup goals.
SEE THE PROGRAMME Digital version available here
4. Ben Foster has an easy life
Champions League winner (and former milkman) Javier Zanetti joined the 1,000-game club this week. Zanetti's 1,000 matches average out to one every 13.79 days throughout his 37 years Ã¢ÂÂ which means he's been playing far more regularly than tiredy-tiredy England retiree Ben Foster, who has only managed a match every 49.36 days, yet still feels the need to pack in international football to 'focus on playing for Birmingham'.
FEATURE Milkman Zanetti delivers the goods for the thousandth time
5. Shrews make a very unShrewd move
Shrewsbury may have missed automatic promotion thanks to an officiating blunder (see last Friday's Weekender), but if they fail in the play-offs they could only have themselves to blame. In Saturday's semi-final they face Torquay, to whom they loaned Jake Robinson in January Ã¢ÂÂ without a clause to say he couldn't face his parent club. Sure enough, when Town travelled to Plainmoor in March he bagged two in a 5-0 whitewash.
Prepare the perch. As if it hadn't already happened when he used the phrase in 2002, Sir Alex Ferguson is about to lead Manchester United to the top of English football's mathematical pecking order by going one better than Liverpool's 18 top-flight titles. The leaders swept aside champions Chelsea as they have all bar one of their Old Trafford visitors this season; their 52 points from 18 home games would see them in seventh even if they hadn't turned up for a single away game.
On this occasion, Sky's wet dream Ã¢ÂÂ 1st v 2nd in the season's final fortnight Ã¢ÂÂ ended after 36 seconds when Javier Hernandez scored; United utterly dominated the first half and Nemanja Vidic's set-piece header rendered Frank Lampard's consolation irrelevant. While Liverpool make Kenny Dalglish's job permanent and Man City trust Roberto Mancini to build on this season's successful bid for Champions League qualification, Chelsea will doubtless change things again in the summer with another manager installed under Roman Abramovich's Sword of Damocles; there's no chance of the Stamford Bridge hierarchy giving a manager six seasons to win the league title, as United did for Ferguson before he racked up 12 in the 19 seasons of the Premier League.
How the powers that be could do with such successful leadership. In a Parliamentary enquiry into exactly how badly football is run in England, former FA chairman Lord Triesman alleged that four FIFA members sought "bribes" from England's 2018 bid, bringing furious denials from FIFA and the appointment of legal eagles by the FA itself.
While we're dealing with the distasteful, Celtic boss Neil Lennon was punched on the touchline by a Hearts fan whose face was helpfully pixellated by most media outlets. Well, the assailant deserves that level of privacy.
Moving shudderingly back to matters on the field, the world's oldest league completed its regular season with the usual cheers and tears. QPR were confirmed as champions by the FA not docking them points, with Southampton (promoted from the third division) and Chesterfield (champions of the fourth) also celebrating; on the other hand, Bristol Rovers and Dagenham & Redbridge dropped into the basement while Lincoln dropped out of the league. We can't all be winnersÃ¢ÂÂ¨, but we should applaud those who are.
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Scottish football's dark day
We Scots complain that our league doesnÃ¢ÂÂt get the headlines Ã¢ÂÂ unless it's something negative. And so it goes again. After seeing our referees go on strike and a manager be sent parcel bombs in the post, now we watch that same manager have to deal with a thug running into the technical area and attacking him.
How much is too much for Neil Lennon? After last month's parcel bomb and this week's suspicious package, thought to contain a bullet, do the perpetrators simply want to scare Lennon out of Celtic, or do they want something far more sinister?
If Lennon walked out to preserve his safety, no one would blame him. But by the same token, in that event we should all just give up and go home. Football is meant to be an escape from work and family commitments, but too many bring religion and sectarianism into it. ItÃ¢ÂÂs important to remember football is just a game.
Some say he doesnÃ¢ÂÂt help himself with his conduct. I don't buy into that. How do you justify death threats and parcel bombs because someone is passionate about their football team? Maybe Lennon does play to the crowd to an extent, certainly more than his Parkhead predecessors. But then so does Jose Mourinho, wherever heÃ¢ÂÂs gone.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs disappointing that in a week filled with tributes and testimonials for an Old Firm manager who leaves his post after years of service to the club, his city rival can't enjoy the same sort of respect Ã¢ÂÂ even if LennonÃ¢ÂÂs a comparative rookie.
This nasty affair will continue on for days and may even overshadow the culmination of whoever wins the league following this weekendÃ¢ÂÂs programme of matches. But in truth, when this seasonÃ¢ÂÂs over, weÃ¢ÂÂll be glad to see the back of it. Not least Neil Lennon.
Ã¢ÂÂ Craig Anderson, from our Scottish blog Fitba' Focus. Read the full feature here
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